Staward Bound

Hello everyone! As many of you may have gleaned from the various blog posts detailing our day trips, a large part of our Field School curriculum involves travelling to different Roman sites around the countryside. None of these trips would be feasible without the care and planning of Dr. Greene, Dr. Meyer and their associates throughout the UK, but there’s something to be said as well about the spontaneous adventures we’ve had here in Northumberland! Perhaps the most memorable impromptu trip I’ve taken so far was a hike to Staward Peel, a prominent site in both Roman and medieval times.

On a beautiful evening not long ago, Dr. Meyer, Rob, Amanda and I began our hike at the mouth of Staward Wood – a vast forest protected by the National Trust. Snaking through the forest is a crystal clear ravine (which made for some incredibly scenic pictures), but unfortunately for us recent floods had destroyed the bridge we were supposed to take in the direction of the Peel. Silver lining: we got to explore a new route!

Bridge out; time to explore!
Bridge out; time to explore!

It was amazing how fast the landscape changed as we marched along; in the hour that we hiked to reach the Peel we walked along tight trails bordering the ravine, through open fields (next to a large campground for those interested!) and dense copse alike. All things considered, it was a beautiful, rather leisurely trek compared to previous hikes…then came the drastically more vertical stretch. The Peel itself is located at the summit of a large hill so the final leg of our adventure was taxing, but the view from the top – and the history that awaited us – was very much worth it.DSCF0280

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And so began the upward journey.
And so began the upward journey.

Dr. Meyer speculates that there may have been a Roman signal tower on the hilltop. Given the site’s vantage point over the surrounding countryside and the prevalence of Roman building stones recycled in the later 14th century peel tower – essentially a watchtower in a larger border castle complex – this seems likely. What we know for sure (based on an inscribed stone that was once incorporated into the peel tower) is that a Roman altar was dedicated on site in the early 3rd c. AD. The altar was dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus by a man named Sulpicius Pudens – Prefect of the 4th Cohort of Gauls stationed at Vindolanda. The hike seemed difficult enough with just the coat on my back; I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to carry enormous stone blocks up the hill and I found it an overwhelming testament to the reach of the Roman military machine. All in all it was a breathtaking experience topped off with a unique history lesson that I won’t soon forget!

The standing remnants of the medieval Staward Peel tower.  Note the very typical Roman building block towards the top of the tower.
The standing remnants of the medieval Staward Peel tower with some very typical Roman building blocks incorporated at the top.
View of the valley below and the neighbouring hills.  This would have been a great spot for a Roman signal tower!
View of the valley below and the neighbouring hills. This would have been a great spot for a Roman signal tower! Just don’t look down…

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